Jumping to Irrational Conclusions

Baby Luna

This time last year we were living in Belltown on the 4th floor of an apartment complex. Our balcony overlooked the courtyard that connected the three buildings in the complex.

At that time Luna was just about to turn 1, and she is particularly small for a Boston Terrier anyway -she was the runt of the litter. We would let her out on the balcony, but I was constantly watching to make sure she didn’t slip through the bars into oblivion 3 floors below. (Anyone who has seen Single White Female knows my fears were entirely justified!)

Anyway, one day I was sitting on the couch with Corey watching tv, not paying much attention to the fact that she was on the balcony. Suddenly I heard a big thump, and the shape that was on the balcony was no longer there.

I screamed.

My immediate conclusion was that she had fallen off the balcony to her poor little puppy doom. I nearly passed out and vomited simultaneously.

Well, as she is alive and well today, you can probably conclude on your own that she didn’t fall off the balcony. What happened was that she knocked over a potted plant, and that was the figure that seemed to disappear.

That would be a prime example of my mind jumping to the worst possible conclusion.

It wasn’t until it was pointed out to me that I really realized that I do that constantly.

I’ve done a little cognitive behavioral therapy in my time, which can teach ways to help recognize irrational sorts of thoughts and feelings and then rationalize them. Personally I find it to be the most grueling “tool” out there, because you have to actually listen to what is going on in your body and put everything on pause to counteract what is going on. It can probably be the most helpful tool of all though.

The trouble (because there is always going to be some) for me is that I can’t seem to discern which thoughts and feelings are irrational, and which are rational.

To someone who doesn’t experience bipolar disorder, this may seem unlikely. How could someone not know which thoughts and feelings are genuine and rational?

If you think about it, our thoughts and feelings originate inside our bodies. And, as I’ve touched on a little bit before, for many of us our thoughts and feelings keep each other in check. If we have unwarranted feelings, our thoughts can call them out, and if we have unwarranted thoughts, our feelings can call them out.

The confusion begins when someone has irrational thoughts and feelings at the same time, so neither thought nor feeling can discern that things are amis. Since both are originating inside the body, how would you know what you’re experiencing is unusual in any way?

If I am manic, for example, and for some reason I feel like a werewolf (I know, I know), but then my thoughts agree with that assessment, on what basis do I begin to question it?

Likewise, it works the opposite way as well (and more often for me),  if I feel crushed and rejected (even for no apparent reason) and my thoughts jump to the worst possible conclusion (that I am unloved and worthless) then what you get is a recipe for depression.

This is why it is so important to combine medication and therapy. Most people shrug off therapy, but the psychiatric medications will only help with the feelings. If we continue to think irrationally, we are much more likely to relapse into big episodes. With therapy we can work on changing our thinking to help discern reality from fiction.

Now, I don’t want anyone to interpret this as me saying depression and mania are just “in the mind” and can be cured by thinking happy thoughts. Changing the way someone thinks is really incredibly complicated, and that is just one portion of the puzzle. Has anyone ever asked you to identify how your thought process works? Could you describe it if someone did? If so, I’d be seriously impressed. Most people don’t spend a lot of time mucking about in their own craniums.

I find that sort of reflection completely infuriating, but with enough practice it does make a big difference.

Anyway, the later in the evening it gets, the more my thought process tends to deteriorate. I can move swiftly from some rational thought into jumping immediately to the worst possible conclusion in every situation.

Last night I was laying in bed and the pressures of the world were coming down on me. I grabbed them by the necktie and told them to bugger off, only to be buried by an avalanche of new anxiety and fear and despair. That’s when things became really gray and I couldn’t distinguish what thoughts were rational anymore an what weren’t. I was jumping on these thoughts like they were empty soda cans, crushing anything I could discern (or could guess) wasn’t true.

I am a terrible girlfriend. (HA!)

CRUSH.

I will never be able to live anywhere else because I am reliant on medical services here. (Screw that.)

CRUSH.

I am too unreliable to do anything substantial. (Well, that one might be true but I stomped on it anyway.)

CRUSH.

At that moment it seemed ok to flail around and stomp on the various BS multiplying like a game of whack-a-mole, but it opened up a whole new can of worms.

How do I know anything I feel or think is genuine? How much of me questioning myself is actually valid? Do I run the risk of creating stagnancy around myself by not confronting any concerns I have that are genuine? Because I’m having trouble telling the difference.

It is confusing.

But at least I’m trying to fight back a little, cognitively. I was so annoyed with depression and jumping to the worst conclusion over and over again last night that all I really wanted to do was slap it in the face. Maybe even twice.

It has declared war on me?

Fine. But this brain is MY turf, and I’m not going down without a fight.

(And I’ve got a therapist on my side, so you better watch out! They know all the good sneaky tricks!)

Advertisements

7 responses to “Jumping to Irrational Conclusions

  1. Hi sarah b sides my bipolar disorder I also have ptsd. The combination of the 2 makes for very unsettling thoughts about disasters and what the worst thing to happen next. I finally just got conscious of these unconscious thoughts. Now I’m working with my therapist to change my thinking when it happens. It’s very hard. I’ve spent 52 years thinking about what the worst thing you could happen is. I just can’t switch it off. I think this will take years. Medications help but I don’t think they’re the only answer toO.

    • I have PTSD too, I wonder if that has something to do with my jumping to crazy and terrifying conclusions? I sure as heck wish could just turn it off, but even if it will take years to learn every little bit helps, right?

      Take care David!

  2. 🙂 My mother used to make so much fun of my Grandmother because she would always jump to the worst thing that could possible happen. My mother knew my Grandmother had a mental illness, but she was never formally diagnosed. Well, my mother started doing it too as she aged and now – lucky me! – I do it too. It’s really hard sometimes to stop yourself and say, “It’s just the illness.” But it is. And I admire you for crushing the crap thoughts. You go!

  3. Love this post. Beautiful exposition of the processes involved in leading us into that place where the thoughts are all “whack-a-mole” and what it takes to CRUSH them out.

    I too think there is a lot to be said for cognitive behavioral therapy. I’m on a hiatus from it right now and I’m paying for it. I switched psychiatrists and have, with the help of the new one, been tweaking my meds downward. When I see her this week though, it’s time to talk psychologist or some kind of talk therapy. I don’t want to lose the time of recovery that I’ve enjoyed over the last few months by being too proud to go back in and ask for some talk time. Your post reminded me that I need to do that. In the meantime: CRUSH.

    Ciao, Tracy

  4. On Sarah.

    You are different. Unlike almost all online journal writers, you are a gifted writer.

    With good intent, you take your most specific self, unique to you, and express it in a semi-abstract form, non-fiction prose. One takes that in and it becomes again specific, unique to that reader. Your stories are skillfully crafted vessels that carry self to self for a meeting that touches the reader, sometimes in unexpected ways. But, that you have touched the reader is enough. With skill the meaning passes more clearly; with great skill, the intent passes as well. I take that your intent is to give of yourself, to speak your pain and by that ease the suffering of others.

    Your skills are evident: research, reflection, wordcraft, story, image, tone, humanity, humility, strength, sensitivity, and love. If an artist’s primary drive is to evoke a response, make a change in the observer, you are an artist. Hell, you’ve made a change in me after only a few days and a few dozen articles.

    Now, you are the brave one, and I’m nobody, but I challenge you to dig even deeper. The babe has just been birthed. I know you have more, I sense it, I feel it. Can one give of themself completely without completely giving themselves away? It’s a dangerous precipice even for one without Bipolar, but I want to continue to be compelled to read you a year from now. In twenty years, I want to read your second novel from Random House.

    I’m not the first to have told you this, and not the last, I suspect. Don’t thank us for this, wallow in the truth of it. If I may, we thank you.

    • I’ve really appreciated the reflective & insightful comments you’ve been posting and to receive a comment like this one is game-changing. I don’t think that I’m exactly in a new ballpark when receiving support or compliments, but my ability to truly absorb and appreciate them has been damaged somewhere along the way, leaving me experiencing the phenomenon for more or less the first time recently.

      This really strikes a chord with me. And you better believe I have much, much more, but the trick has been in pacing myself to keep from dumping everything out at once. It can be so easy to overwhelm others, so I’m trying (somewhat experimentally) to be open without dragging others down with that they’ve heard or read.

      And then there are portions of intensity that are so fragile I wouldn’t dare put them somewhere where the incessant traffic and clicking might make them crack. Things are in the works, maybe I can whisper them onto a physical page.

      Thank you.

      And game on.

      • For irrelevant reasons my name had to be changed, but the game remains the same. Just so you know that Hyand Low is “afflicted” with bipolar_too.

        Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s